Wild life

Bear Grylls on family, filming and how to pick up a snake

This article was first published in The Spectator on June 2 2011.

Bear Grylls’s TV series Man vs Wild may be watched by about a billion people across the globe, but its appeal is lost on his wife, Shara. ‘She prefers Sex and the City,’ says Bear, gleefully. ‘She says, “I love you, but all of your programmes are the same. You could film it in the garden”.’ His three sons, once avid fans, now watch MythBusters instead.

When I meet him at Heathrow, he has just said goodbye to his family. He is off to Iceland to film an episode with Jake Gyllenhaal. They will skydive into inhospitable terrain, build snow caves, and generally do their best to survive for two and a half days.

Bear seems pretty pumped. His trips, he says, are squeezed into the shortest time possible. ‘I’d prefer to stack it, do it, and then get home,’ he says. He takes the same approach with this interview: he hurtles through it in 20 minutes and then wants to talk about me. ‘Is that helpful? Good, let’s chat normally now,’ he says.

As he sits down with a big Costa coffee I ask him about the new series. For a moment he struggles to remember exactly where he’s been. ‘God, it’s ridiculous,’ he says, rubbing his face. ‘They all blur.’ Then he remembers a trip to Scotland. ‘I love it there,’ he says. ‘People don’t know how wild it can be.’ He explains how he was dropped off the northwest tip of the mainland and, as he swam towards the coast, spotted a dead seal. It was rotting, so he couldn’t eat it, but he had another idea: he skinned it, chopped off its head and fins, and used its blubber as a wet suit. ‘I put my head through and my arms through the flipper holes, and it was like a very dodgy looking gilet,’ he says.

His crew, he explains, were sceptical. ‘They said, “Bear, this is such a ridiculous idea, it’ll never work”.’ Then it became a point of principle. ‘And it totally worked! It was amazing. I mean, it stank, you know, it was bad, but as a survival thing it worked.’

Bear is in full flow. Every episode, he says, has its hairy moments. In Borneo, he was bitten by a snake. He was up a tree in the jungle, having made an orangutan nest to sleep in, when he saw the snake above him. He reached out and grabbed it. ‘One lesson is, never grab a snake by the anus. They don’t like it.’ He pulled and pulled — Bear acts it out — but its head was wrapped round a branch. ‘Eventually it pinged back and — whoosh! — it grabbed hold of me.’ The snake met a swift end – Bear doesn’t spell out how.

‘I barbecued it up for my supper,’ he says.

Read the rest of the article here.